How to CookSalad

What Nora Ephron Taught Me About Vinaigrette (& a Really Good Recipe)

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If I spent any time doing anything in the kitchen last year, it was mainly assembling some kind of sad meal. The most elaborate things I put together were salads, if you could even call them that.

Piles of leaves, slices of produce, a squeeze of lemon and a glug of oil thrown together, not mixed at all. The results were as sloppy as they sound: Some bites were all lemon, some had no dressing at all, and a lot of leaves were wilted and drowning in oil. 

Photo by Kristy Mucci

One day in September, I had kind of an epiphany, thanks to Nora Ephron. I'd just moved into my new apartment and was feeling especially sad, and reached for a book to make myself feel better. I picked up Heartburn because it's one of the books I've been relying on for moments like this.

If you haven't read it, here's a very brief synopsis: The main character is a food person going through a divorce. She shares recipes throughout the book, but she mentions her vinaigrette a lot. Apparently this stuff is amazing, and she will not share the recipe with her ex. Good luck to him, he'll never find anyone with as good a vinaigrette up her sleeve.

More: Learning to cook again, starting with soft scrambled eggs.

How to Make a Vinaigrette Without a Recipe
How to Make a Vinaigrette Without a Recipe

Eventually, she shares the recipe (sorry if I spoiled it, but you really should have read this book at some point in the last thirty-ish years), and that part sent a jolt through me: Vinaigrette is really a big deal, and I make a really good one. What have I been doing with these depressing salads all year?

I used to love putting time into making a salad: carefully washing and drying the leaves, making a proper vinaigrette, using my hands to make sure the leaves were all evenly dressed—that's a lovely time, and I'd been depriving myself of all that enjoyment. Thanks to Nora Ephron, I felt inspired to get back to my old ways.

Photo by Kristy Mucci

That surge of inspiration didn't last long. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I didn't start putting effort into my salads until a few weeks ago. Shortly after my epiphany, I fell right back into my sadness and the thought of making anything felt more exhausting than exciting, so my salads didn't improve.

But now, I'm more determined to not let those sad days get the better of me. I'm forcing myself to do more in the kitchen, despite how daunting it feels sometimes.

Kitchen Rescue: How to Fix Bad Salad Dressing
Kitchen Rescue: How to Fix Bad Salad Dressing

Most days, I make myself some kind of salad for lunch. It's still mainly an assembly job, and not really cooking, but I'm enjoying the process more. I'm finally making proper dressings again, and it feels like a huge feat.

Here's the recipe that inspired me to get back to making proper salad dressings: 

Mix 2 tablespoons Grey Poupon mustard with 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar. Then, whisking constantly with a fork,slowly add 6 tablespoons olive oil until the vinaigrette is thick and creamy

And here are the improvements I think can be made to it

  • First, Grey Poupon is fine, but it has sugar and fruit pectin added to it, and I don't know what that's about, so I use mustard that doesn't include them.
  • I think shallots that have been minced so that they're perfectly even make all vinaigrettes better.
  • I'm really into that Noble Tonic No. 4 right now, so that's what I'm using instead of red wine vinegar.
  • Sometimes I add anchovies, because they're the best.
  • And finally, whisking by hand is great, but I prefer using a mason jar because it's easier: less cleanup and easy storage for whatever's extra. 

I'm working on keeping a jar of dressing in my fridge at all times. Knowing it's there provides a small sense of security. I know I'm not done with my sad days yet, but at least I'm done with those sad salads.

Really Good Vinaigrette

Really Good Vinaigrette

Kristy Mucci Kristy Mucci
Serves 1
  • 2 tablespoons mustard, either dijon or champagne
  • 2 tablespoons good vinegar (I really like Noble's Tonic No. 4)
  • 1 small shallot, minced evenly
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
Go to Recipe

I always feel better when there's a jar of __________ in my refrigerator. Fill in the blank in the comments below.

Tags: Salad Dressing, Sauce